Brussels, Asharq Al-Awsat – The Public Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court [ICC] Luis Moreno Ocampo called on states to refrain from unnecessary contacts with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, pursuant to issuing the ICC arrest warrant accusing him of crimes against humanity in Darfur, western Sudan.
In an interview with Asharq-Al-Awsat, Ocampo called for the removal of President al-Bashir, avoiding unnecessary official contacts with him, and reducing diplomatic relations with Sudan, in preparation for his arrest. He denied any plans for military intervention saying: “We do not call for military intervention and we do not call for war or invasion; but at the same time we cannot stand idly by without even issuing a denunciation.”
Ocampo called for international cooperation in demanding that Sudan stops committing crimes and abides by UN Security Council resolutions and ICC decisions. He defended his decision to arrest President al-Bashir, but said he is not responsible for the consequences, especially the expelling of humanitarian organizations from Sudan.
Ocampo explained that his office cannot keep quiet while genocide is being committed, pointing out that “silence does not help victims; it only helps criminals.” He said that the decision to arrest President al-Bashir was necessary to prevent him from committing more crimes, and that he would be reporting to the UN Security Council next June.
Regarding the states which received President al-Bashir after the ICC arrest warrant had been issued – such as Qatar, Ocampo said that these states are not legally bound to arrest Omar al-Bashir.
With regard to the situation in Gaza, Ocampo confirmed that his office has received more than 300 letters concerning the situation and that it is studying all the information carefully to determine whether it fulfils the required legal criteria and whether the crimes committed fall within the category of war crimes. He said he will apply the same criteria to all situations.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The arrest warrant against President al-Bashir has been issued; what is the next step?
[Ocampo] After the ICC warrant had been issued on 4 March 2009 to arrest President al-Bashir, the ball is now in the international arena. It is the international society’s opportunity to show that it is serious about international justice and the protection of victims – Africans, Muslims and Arabic speaking victims. The ideal procedure is for the Sudanese authorities to surrender Al-Bashir by itself, especially as the UN Security Council has decided that “Sudan should fully cooperate” with the court. Moreover, as a UN member Sudan is under obligation to cooperate in accordance with the UN Charter. Furthermore, the 108 signatories to the Rome Statute of the ICC, which established the court and of which 30 states are African, are [legally] bound to cooperate with the court. But the Security Council has urged ‘all’ states to cooperate with the court.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it possible for the Security Council to call for military intervention in Sudan?
[Ocampo] We do not call for military intervention, nor do we call for war or invasion. At the same time we are not in favor of standing idly by doing nothing. As a matter of fact, the range of possibilities between doing nothing and military intervention is very wide. In the case of Omar al-Bashir, states should not go about it as they usually do. From a practical point of view, states should refrain from making unnecessary contacts with al-Bashir; reduce their diplomatic relations, and avoid attending any official occasion relating to him. Moreover, they should search his personal assets and disclose them. In so doing, the international community imposes a state of isolation and marginalization on President al-Bashir that in the end prepares for his arrest. There is need for all parties concerned to cooperate and demand that Sudan stops committing more crimes and abides by UN Security Council resolutions and ICC decisions. Leaders of international and regional organizations, politicians, civil society organizations and students should talk clearly about these crimes, Al-Bashir’s responsibility, and the need to arrest him.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You said in the past that you would appeal against the court’s decision to drop the charge of genocide. On what basis would the prosecutor build his case to confirm that such a serious crime has been committed?
[Ocampo] The prosecutor can do that within the framework of his application for a warrant, dated 14 July 2008. My office has adduced evidence that Al-Bashir has exploited the entire state system, the armed forces and the Janjawid. Military forces under Al-Bashir’s control have attacked civilians in the towns and villages controlled by the target groups, and committed acts of murder, rape, torture, and destroyed their way of life. As a result, Al-Bashir has caused the forcible movement of a large section of the target groups and continued to target them inside the camps that were set up in the country for those whom were made homeless. Acts of rape, torture and forced homelessness under very bad conditions have caused physical and mental harm. Living conditions were deliberately imposed on large sections of these communities that were meant to physically destroy them, especially by means of hindering the arrival of humanitarian aid to them. Moreover, in March 2009, the ICC judges unanimously decided to issue an arrest warrant against Omar al-Bashir for committing crimes against humanity, including genocide, inside the refugee camps. One of the judges was in favor of including the charge of genocide while two judges opposed it [and so the charge of genocide was dropped].
We applied for permission to appeal to reinstate the charge of genocide against Al-Bashir, but the important thing is that the court has confirmed his personal responsibility.
With regard to the charges against Omar al-Bashir, my office relied in the main on:
More than 100 eye witnesses and victims of attacks that took place in Darfur.
Recorded interviews with Sudanese government officials.
Testimonials obtained from individuals familiar with the activities of government officials and representatives of the Sudanese government and the Janjawid in the Darfur conflict.
Other documents and information submitted by the Sudanese government as requested by the public prosecutor.
Report of the UN follow-up committee and other material submitted by the committee.
Report of the national Sudanese investigation committee and its other material.
Other documents obtained from open sources.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a time limit for Khartoum to surrender Al-Bashir to the court?
[Ocampo] Patience is an attribute of justice. Whether Al-Bashir is arrested now, in two months or in two years, in the end he will appear before the court. But let us be frank, the victims cannot afford the luxury of patience; they need immediate protection. They are African and Muslim victims who have been attacked by the leader who was supposed to protect them. Now, the world has to protect them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would Qatar, which President al-Bashir visited to attend the Arab summit or any other country he had visited be open to questioning?
[Ocampo] Qatar is not a party to ICC Statute. Consequently it is not legally bound to arrest Al-Bashir; but UN Security Council Resolution No. 1593 urges all UN members to cooperate with the ICC. On my part, I am having regular meetings with Qatari officials.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a possibility that proceedings against President al-Bashir might be stopped, for instance, if he delivered the other accused to the court?
[Ocampo] It is not for the public prosecutor to enter into political negotiations; our job is basically judicial, and all individuals wanted by the court should be delivered to the court.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the ICC bear responsibility for the consequences of its decisions to the Darfur people after the humanitarian organizations have been expelled?
[Ocampo] What is happening in Darfur is not a humanitarian crisis; it is the result of deliberate genocide. The public prosecutor cannot keep quiet about genocide, silence does not help the victims, it only helps the criminals. Although the ICC judges have stopped short of indicting him for genocide, his actions point to his criminal responsibility. Expelling humanitarian organizations would add to his personal responsibility. It confirms his intention to destroy the community of refugees and the need for the international society to act to prevent him from committing new crimes.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When would the ICC resort to the UN to take steps to arrest President al-Bashir?
[Ocampo] The responsibility for executing the arrest warrant falls basically on the Sudanese government. But let us not forget that the ICC was established by the international society represented by states. The Rome Statute has been signed by 108 states and therefore they are bound by the undertaking to arrest Al-Bashir. I shall be reporting once gain to the Security Council in June 2009. Until then, my office will continue to work equally with signatory and non-signatory states.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Could the court be expected to settle for trying Al-Bashir and others in Sudan or some other Arab country?
[Ocampo] The ICC in The Hague is the solution; its impartiality and independence guarantee the legitimacy of its intervention. There are almost 2.5 million people in Darfur facing danger. The court is trying to protect them by contributing to the prevention of more crimes taking place, and I am working in their interest. Those victims are Africans and Muslims who speak Arabic and justice is on their side.
The anti-apartheid Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who heads the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Committee’ in South Africa, wrote: “Because the victims in Sudan are Africans, African leaders should be at the forefront of supporters to bring the criminals to justice.”
In fact, regional organizations are of particular importance for preventing more crimes taking place in Darfur. The African Union [AU] has played a leading role and will continue to do so. It is shameful that commentators projected the AU position as being opposed to the ICC and in favor state immunity. The African Union is continuing its efforts for justice in Darfur. The AU Peace and Security Council Resolution of 21 July 2008: “Affirms AU commitment to fight impunity and to strengthen democracy and the rule of law throughout the continent, in accordance with its Charter, and in this regard, condemns once again the gross violation of human rights in Darfur.”
Early this year [ 2009] 12 African states put forward the names of judges as candidates for election for the ICC, and more recently the African Union High Level Panel on Darfur [AUPD] headed by former President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, discussed the conflict in Darfur. I am keeping in touch with President Mbeki and I have undertaken to work with him in his huge undertaking that aims to move forward the accountability process against the individuals accused of committing war crimes in Darfur.
The Arab League also undertook openly to combat impunity from punishment and was among the first organizations that sent a commission to Darfur in 2004. The report of the Arab League confirmed that collective crimes have been committed and called for sending judges to investigate crimes committed in Darfur and Gaza.
The Arab League and the AU say they are fed up with the double standards, and I agree with them. That is why the ICC is the solution; its impartiality and independence can guarantee the legitimacy of intervention.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there any developments regarding the trial of Israeli officials for war crimes committed lately in Gaza?
[Ocampo] I have received more than 300 letters relating to the situation in Gaza. In January and February 2009, I met with Palestinian Authority representatives. They submitted a declaration in accordance with Article 12 of the Statute of Rome, whereby they accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC. My office, in accordance with procedure, will study all available information, including that from open sources. It will also study carefully the issues relating to the jurisdiction of the court, to make sure that the declaration fulfils all legal requirements, whether the alleged crimes are war crimes in the sense defined in the ICC Statute, and whether other cases have been lodged with other courts relating to the same crimes. These are complicated legal matters, the solution of which would be guided by the Rome Statute. I apply the same standards to all situations.